If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent your fair share of time in business meetings. In our society, it seems there’s an obsession with them, whether we’re talking about strategy sessions, brainstorming discussions, or data reviews. And don’t even get me started on all the lame conferences over the years, where only two things ever seem to happen: meetings where people bitch… before going to the bar to drink together. Or meetings where they learn to be empowered and get motivated…before heading to the bar to drink together.
Somehow getting things accomplished with most people always involves more talking than doing.
And a healthy dose of drugs or alcohol. Sometimes both.
There’s even meetings about meetings. It’s practically a meme itself in the corporate world. And nearly everyone, from middle management to executive leadership, is guilty. Hell, in the political world, I’ve heard popular bureaucrats publicly say, verbatim mind you, how we should meet to schedule a next meeting to decide whether or not a different meeting should go forward or not.
Point being that this is more a recipe for an endless jerk-off fest rather than planning for success.
But there’s a much easier way to be effective.
And that way is failure.
At least in American culture, the self-help industry has come to be saturated in content trying to convince everyone to be comfortable with failing sometimes. After all, it’s a fact of life. Yet, no one is actually comfortable with owning up to it. In fact, the far majority of people still attempt to hide, cover up, or spin their failures, so that the world can’t see them. This is especially true of the people we often call leaders in our communities. If you’re really lucky, the government just shovels some money your way to paper over your mistakes.
And that self-help content? It’s mostly just cosmetics to give the appearance of accepting loss but without actually fessing up when you’ve tangibly lost.
What we get because of this situation isn’t just the jerk-off fest mentioned above. We also get a society of superficial boneheads who have never learned the lessons of defeat. And in a world where every corporation, city government, small business, and nonprofit is getting bailed out by the government, you don’t have to guess that those in charge are, by every measure, out of touch with what it takes to succeed. Because they’ve given up on ever having their asses truly on the line when it matters most.
In most cases, their fortunes, their positions, and even their lives have never been at risk. Ever.
Failure, on the other hand, is undeniable. You don’t need meetings to argue about whether it happened. Or a panel to review the causes: the reasons at the root are often plain as day. Anything else, committees or panels, is simply an exercise in shifting blame or an attempt to bury the truth.
But failure is the one measure which cannot be waved away or ignored.
And if you’re experiencing failure, you know you’re still actually in the game, rather than on the bench.
Failure is also the one metric, similar to pushing to exhaustion during a hard workout at the gym, which teaches the biggest lessons. And in turn, those lessons provide for the most improvement. When you’re pushing yourself to the very edge of your limits or doing extraordinary things that matter, you become very familiar with these lessons. And the pain involved with them. To see this fact and the poverty of our leaders, all you need do is compare, for only a moment, people who really have skin in the game. Examples might be as simple as a doctor treating Ebola patients in Africa, with the wealth of failing infrastructure and political corruption that goes with that situation. Or a Christian living under an oppressive regime, where their pronouncement of faith might cost them everything.
These are stories often filled with herculean efforts, and although they have their share of victories, they also are replete with failures which put our very humanity to the test.
These are people in the game, taking real risks for what matters to them.
Anyone else who doesn’t talk about their defeats hasn’t learned these lessons, the lessons of putting your money where your mouth is. And they probably aren’t pushing themselves to the edge. These type of people, most of the population now, know little about values such as sacrifice, true empathy, or loyalty. And forget about them making real investment in others. In their world, they’re simply waiting for the next meeting to pledge their fealty to the cult of successful mediocrity so they can get their turn at the slop trough.
For this reason, when it comes to those meetings about meetings, I typically skip them entirely. And I avoid anyone who doesn’t honestly share how the reality they’re trying to create has often fallen short of their grand vision. Because, when you’re pushing yourself to do incredible things, it will always fall short since there was more you could have done. And the mission never goes as planned. 9 times out of 10, if you’re a leader in this world on fire, you’re always knee deep in some totally less-than-ideal situation that you’ve got to figure out, one without a rule book or blueprint. You’ll always wonder whether the hard lessons can ever truly be conveyed to others, let alone taught to those who desire to learn before embarking on the impossible task of doing what’s right and what’s hard at the same time.
Truthfully, it’s easy to brag about your accomplishments. Literally every stooge does it to promote themselves.
But it’s another thing entirely to measure yourself against giants and be found wanting. Or to openly share that fact with others.
And then, despite your very genuine failures, to blaze a path forward anyway. And although you may be alone, to light that path for anyone who wishes to follow to see.